Luis Leao Pinto (Scotiabank) of Portugal won the first of three stages at the 22nd edition of La Ruta de los Conquistadores Thursday.
The stage was 93 kilometers long and went from the coastal town of Jacó on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, to the Universidad Técnica Nacional in Atenas in Alajuela.
Leao, who raced La Ruta in 2010, finished more than 10 minutes ahead of second place, Colombian Luis Mejía. Leao and Mejía made their move in the Carara National Park, where both excelled in what is considered one of the toughest sectors of the race. Between San Pablo and San Pedro de Turrubares, Leao gained advantage and rode alone to win.
“Having a bit of advantage is important, I gave my all in the climbs, but I didn’t expect this kind of advantage, and I can only hope to keep it since Mejía is a great rider,” said Leao. “My legs are hurting really bad, but Costa Rica is a country where I feel really comfortable, and I love it.”
Despite today’s victory, Leao does not consider himself the winner. “The race just begun, it’s mountain bike, it’s unpredictable. You can be ahead of everyone today and tomorrow can be filled with surprises that can leave you out of the race. So I take it day by day and try to recover quickly, because the bar is way up in this competition.”
Mejía seemed hopeful for the upcoming stages, no matter the advantage Leao gained on him. “It was a pretty aggressive descent for how worn out you are, and well, we suffered a lot,” he said. “The idea was to be closer to each other in the general times, but we’re taking it day by day, and we hope that tomorrow I can gain some time and continue to fight for the first place. Leao came out very aggressive, in the first checkpoint he gained some distance on me, he’s a really strong cyclist.”
Spanish rider Joseph Betalú was third, 13:37 behind the winner. “I was surprised with the third place,” he said. “I don’t know La Ruta so well. I have been told this is very tough. Yesterday I saw how the stage was and got a little scared because it looked like it never ends, so I went saving up and saving up energy, step by step.”
Eddy Pérez was the best Costa Rican “tico” rider on the first day of La Ruta de los Conquistadores. He finished 16:33 behind the winner. He also beat one of the national favorites, Paolo Montoya. “I had a lot of strong ‘tico’ and foreign rivals behind me, so I focused to keep my position,” he said. “Tomorrow’s stage has a lot of paved roads, and I can do well on that terrain because of my training. We know we’re riding the toughest race, and I hope nobody had accidents and everyone can finish OK.”
Meanwhile, Colombian Angela Parra riding (Coopenae-Economy-Movistar), took women’s lead. “It was a great satisfaction just to cross that finish line, it was a tough stage,” she said. “The last three kilometers where a surprise because you couldn’t walk, there were too many rocks, lots of water, cow manure. So much rest after five hours of intense riding made the last stretch very difficult, now I have to recover my energy for tomorrow.”
American Todd Wells had a difficult day, writing on Twitter, “Had my worst day ever at @La_Ruta today but made it to the finish somehow to fight again tomorrow. #offseason please dos mas dias”
The second stage will take place Friday, covering 57 kilometers from Terramall to Oikumene Camp in La Unión of Tres Ríos in Cartago. This year’s race will cover 270 kilometers in total over three days of racing.